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Archive for the ‘travels’ Category

back again

Ah, well, it’s been a month or two, and we are finally home—recovering from the haze of holiday travel and reclaiming our house from the plants and cats, who ran wild while we were gone. I transformed my desk into a staging area for the plants that would need to be watered most in our absence; I’ve only just removed the last geranium and swept away the dirt and dried-up petals. It seems like quite a metaphor for trying to get back to work—though strangely, overwhelmingly literal. Kind of like this:

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The bookends of our holiday travel—Ricky’s hometown, famous for The Real Housewives of NJ—and the trailer, one of my ancestral homes. It was quite a leap: from snow and Broadway and Garden State Plaza; diner pancakes, endless traffic jams, and a Japanese grocery store (I think I accidentally ate some fish)—to sand roads, key lime pie, spanish moss, orange trees on the canals, manatees, and the $3 pair of sparkly blue flip flops I had to buy in order to supplement my travel wardrobe.

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It’s good to be home. There are currently very few picturesque corners in our house; we’re digging out from under piles of geranium leaves, unwanted catalogs, and dirty laundry. Sometimes having so much space just seems unwieldy—though, of course, smaller spaces (as in the trailer) have their own limitations.

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Edinburgh

I love this strangely boring picture that I took of North Castle Street in Edinburgh. I noticed that the sky was doing strange things at the very end of sunset and ran down from our rented flat with Ricky’s camera (which he sort of lost for a while, which is why I’ve only recently been reunited with these shots and others of cauliflower tureens).

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day 13

Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh; a brief post with a bit of blue sky (which we are sorely lacking). I stared at a thimble for a while today and tried to come up with something to say about it. That sounds like it could be a metaphor, but it’s not. Instead of a thimble, you get the rooms where Mary, Queen of Scots watched the murder of her private secretary. Tourists in later centuries claimed that they could still see the bloodstains on the floors. I could not. I did see, however, a number of rather random Mary, Queen of Scots artifacts, including a bit of needlework depicting kittens.

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Day 5 didn’t happen. Oops. Well, it happened—I taught, I napped, I drank horchata and ate pizza—and then I went to bed, forgetting all about my blogbligations (blobligations?). It was a good night. I’ve touched down on both coasts in the last few weeks— here’s a picture of my feet on a cliff in San Diego, where my lovely friend B. was wed— and, while getting away is good, being home feels luxurious right now.

Of course, that much time away from home means that my refrigerator contains some horrors as well as a good measure of guilt (in the form of lovely produce that I haven’t had time to prepare). After too many weeks, I finally got around to shelling and cooking a bag of cranberry beans from the farmers’ market— I love this Jamie Oliver recipe for “humble beans.” Speaking of Jamie, I was quite cross to find my DVR devoid this morning of any new episodes “Jamie at Home”— apparently, AT&T has not been able to negotiate a new contract with Cooking Channel and Food Network. It’s enough to make me think of cutting back my cable package.

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Poetry and Owls

Oops, I bought some owls. October has been a productive month for me so far… in some ways.

I finally finished Wolf Hall; I ordinarily move through books pretty quickly (or else I could hardly be a Victorianist), but this one stalled me for a number of weeks. It was a slow read, in a good way. Unsurprisingly, a Booker Prize winner makes a terrible gym read; I’ve been stuck with wrinkled, abandoned copies of US Weekly lately, because I am utterly incapable of reading two books at the same time. I finally remembered that I’ve been meaning to read The History of Love when I stumbled upon a copy of it on the heaped high tables of discount books at Costco; I started reading it on the plane this weekend, fell in love, and then left it in my mom’s car. Hopefully, my book and I will be reunited soon.

I traveled this past weekend to exotic Newark, NJ for the Dodge Poetry Festival; we stayed with Ricky’s parents and met up with my mom, who was also in town for four intense days of poetry. I’ve gone to the Dodge, which is biennial, every two years since 2002; I never could have imagined that I would sit for ten hours of poetry in a muddy tent, or that I would excitedly chase after the autographs of poets to add to my now impressive collection of signed volumes. I missed the transcendent setting of the last festival. The New Jersey Performing Arts Center is surprisingly lovely, but I missed the more casual, outdoor events of the past; it was too hard this year to wander from poet to poet without fuss. The manicured setting also lacked some of the spontaneity that made the previous events so memorable— I can’t remember if we actually heard a bat during Mark Doty’s reading of “Pipistrelle,” but it certainly seemed possible. And that sense of possibility is so important to the Dodge, and to poetry.

I’m teaching poetry this week— perfect timing. I’m going to play a clip of Billy Collins reading “Hangover” for my students.

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Tintern Abbey

Though absent long,

These forms of beauty have not been to me,

As is a landscape to a blind man’s eye:

But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din

Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,

In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,

Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,

And passing even into my purer mind

With tranquil restoration:

—feelings too

Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,

As may have had no trivial influence

On that best portion of a good man’s life;

His little, nameless, unremembered acts

Of kindness and love.

(from William Wordsworth, “LINES Written a Few Miles Above TINTERN ABBEY, on revisiting the banks of the WYE during a tour, July 13, 1798)

The first image in this post is a Claude Glass that you can find a few yards (not miles) above Tintern Abbey— lucky for me, a helpful Welsh Heritage employee overheard me confusing the Tintern Abbey gift shop cashier (yes, there’s a gift shop; no, I didn’t buy anything) with questions about a largish, ovalish mirror somewhere in the vicinity of the Abbey. She pointed it out— up the hill, in the gardens of a nearby hotel. The Claude Glass is supposed to help an artist (perhaps an amateur artist) frame a scene from nature for a drawing and better observe the forms and features of the landscape. Rather oddly, though, you have to stand with your back facing the landscape you wish to draw— so the most complete view of Tintern Abbey that I could capture in a single frame is that backwards, color-drained mirror image.

Unrelatedly, and somewhat unpoetically, one can have a rather excellent cream tea in the shadow of the Abbey. Or a jacket potato.

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henge-by

Among the innumerable sites we visited across the Atlantic: Stonehenge. Perhaps it’s a bit generous to say that we visited it. Really, we accidentally passed by it on the way to our rented cottage somewhere in the general vicinity of Bath. I spotted it as we were coming down a hill— “Is that Stonehenge?”— I asked, half-wondering, half-exclaiming. Ricky laughed— of course it was Stonehenge. How many henges could there be? I feel like there might be more than we expect; even so, it was an astounding thing to stumble upon. The best that I can usually hope to find on one of my long drives is a Target or a Dunkin’ Donuts. One moment, the landscape was a beautiful and unrelenting expanse of hills and sheep— then all of a sudden, it was broken by this passing glimpse. It was just enough henge for me, really. Quite perfect.

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